The debate platforms of the future: twitter and facebook (?)

By skepticlawyer

As many of you may be aware, Australia’s leading left-leaning blog, Larvatus Prodeo, is closing down. Its last post went up today (I think, remember I’m in the UK and so should allow for time differences).

Leaving everything else aside, Mark made the following observation:

There’s no longer the same need for a hub for political discussion, as lively debate has migrated to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and as the space for opinion and analysis around the shop has widened. The fact that the ‘blogosphere’ in Australia is no longer a term that makes much sense is an indicator of that change.

The reason I’ve quoted this passage is that I think he’s wrong. I think Twitter is a terrible platform for political debate; it encourages the worst sort of sound-bite approach to complex issues; the only use for Twitter seems to be (a) the conspicuous display of wit (which one of my lecturers at Edinburgh, Alexander McCall Smith, does amazingly well) and (b) the embodiment of Cameron’s First Law. There is no middle ground. And if a tweet is ‘heavyweight’ or thought-provoking, it’s because it links to an article somewhere that addresses the issue in greater depth.

Then there’s facebook, which as my friends know is a repository (at least in my case) for cat humour, funny dog pictures (mainly from Dogs for the Disabled) and my endless complaints about HMRC (when I’m finished this tax seat I plan to burn my Tolley’s statutes, all five volumes of them, 3000+ pages each, printed on Bible paper). The idea that facebook is a good place for political debate strikes me as ‘not even wrong’.

However, this is something about which I am likely to be ‘not even wrong’. As anyone who also knows me knows, I am beyond technically incompetent. I am one of those people who would be quite happy if every computer on the planet blew up tomorrow: I’m fine with card catalogues, typewriters (which I can take apart and fix) cars with carburetters (ditto) and using, you know, paper law reports. I’ve even memorized much of the Library of Congress cataloguing system.

Which means I am temperamentally out of sympathy with ‘social media’ and ‘social media developments’, and am likely missing something.

So: what am I missing? I’d really like to know. Is there some corner of twitter and facebook that does something other than what I’ve outlined above?

UPDATE: Over at his place, Tim Train makes an excellent point about how a good piece of writing (Will Zeng’s comment on nearly clouting Trenton Oldfield in the head with his oar, see my earlier post) was very nearly destroyed simply because it was published on Twitter. Some kind soul at the OUBC had sorted it out by the time it got to me; Tim shows you what the original looked like.

UPDATE II: Jim Belshaw makes some related points about the growing mountain of sh*t (he uses a politer word) one has to wade through when panning for internet gold.


  1. Mel
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Five points-

    (1) putting folk on auto-mod on a blog that attracts lots of comments and fishing those comments out of the moderation queue at the convenience of the moderator is in reality a ban as you are effectively excluded from the conservation. To argue that it isn’t a ban is to make a distinction without a difference.

    (2) Simple netiquette and old fashioned manners suggest Jen Marohasy should have been informed of her predicament. It isn’t like she is a faceless, anonymous commenter. She could then change her name to something like Jen [email protected] so that she avoided being unfairly excluded from the conservation.

    (3) it is understandable that blogs, including Larva Prod, might want to discourage endless iterations of the same boring debates on first principle matters and on hot button issues. This blog has a very sensible Don’t Mention The War(ming)! policy.

    (4) It is impossible not to overlook the fact that a blog that promulgated a vision that included the extensive curtailment of private property rights in the interests of social justice and social inclusion had the strictest and most harshly enforced propertarian “Our Property, Our Rules” policy of all the major Oz blogs, both left and right.

    (5) Jen’s bug-eyed zeal on Gentle Macchia has me ducking for cover but I must admit I’ve always found her to be polite and courteous and it is a credit to her that she allows her adversaries to do guest posts at her blog.

  2. Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Anna, I think LP could have done a better job in communicating what its objectives were. For the most part it appeared as a forum to discuss ideas that were in some general way connected to the post. If the idea was to constrain discussion to within a particular ideological framework, or on the basis of certain assumptions then I do wonder why such things weren’t stated in the posts or clearly articulated in some other way.

    I don’t feel that the permanent moderation was equivalent to a ban, as I was able to engage in various discussions despite being delayed by moderation. Although I never did figure out why I was in permanent moderation…

  3. kvd
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    On SL’s actual question concerning the potential of FB and/or Twitter to provide a replacement for the extended discussion of issues, my limited checking around (including that excellent demonstration mentioned in Update 1 above) doesn’t seem to provide much support for moving the ‘conversation’ to either platform.

    So, not to divert from the above diversion, I’d say that as of now, MB’s original quoted comment that ‘lively debate has migrated’ is not supported.

    With apologies for being on topic.

  4. Posted April 12, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    I think LP could have done a better job in communicating what its objectives were

    Well, LP was a group of individuals who all had different objectives for individual threads, so the irony of calling us a hivemind when different posters wanted different things is, well, ironic. I’m not sure why there was such a focus on consistency, really, except that it’s an easy thing to point to. It should always have been enough for the owner of the thread to say “enough now” and be respected, but it never was. Hence the broad and difficult to manage technological solutions.

    I had a much higher tolerance than some for insults and rough debate, but there was never an ability for me to allow something on one thread, and let someone else enforce a different standard on another, without cries of Teh Hivemind being Inconsistent.

    With apologies for being on topic

    LOL, quite. Sorry again! Although this conversation does get at the point Mark was making. I think the big blogs have become inconvenient places for good discussion, because it’s so hard to direct conversations when everyone feels they have a claim to the blog and a right to be heard.

  5. Posted April 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Oh dear. How sad, Never mind!!

  6. Posted April 12, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    It’s just occurred to me that we may be giving the technology too much credit — I have lost count of the times Akismet has taken a set against our most regular commenters, including kvd and desipis. Every now and again, the admins get spaminated ON OUR OWN BLOODY BLOG.

    I suppose we are all still feeling our way when it comes to doing this properly; my lack of technical skill at the ‘back end’ means that the (old fashioned) skills I do have — writing, editing, facilitating quality debate — must as a matter of necessity be brought to the fore. It’s why I’ve focussed so heavily on recruiting good writers as admins and encouraging articulate commentary.

  7. Posted April 12, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    Yep Mel.

    And given this site avoids discussion of Gentle Macchia, and given there has never been robust debate at LP on the topic…

    I would be happy to post something from Anna Winter or DeusExMacintosh or you on Gentle Macchia at my blog…

    Particularly if there is a piece of compelling evidence that you think I may have missed/too uncritically dismissed on this topic.

  8. Posted April 13, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Jennifer, there are entire sites out there dedicated to discussing that topic, so the lack of coverage on blogs with a broader range of topics isn’t really an issue.

  9. Posted April 13, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Frankly, it bores me, and in the wake of the Insight program, I considered quitting blogging altogether. From now on, I am happy to discuss the issue face-to-face, but not online.

    I’m glad you didn’t quit blogging LE. It was brave of you to blog on that topic – though as you say conversations on it these days tend not to be productive and, yes, boring.

  10. kvd
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Not to resurrect the tit for tat which basically killed this as a useful discussion, but I want to record something which very much surprised me (my bolding):

    It would also give Facebook a fillip to its business here in Australia, which boasts some of the highest penetration levels in the world, with 10.2 million users – of which more than half log on daily. Media buyers estimate Facebook Australia is expected to book revenues of $50 million to $60 million this calendar year

    Quoted from this SMH article, and quite frankly the 5M daily users is a surprise.

    Maybe MB is correct in suggesting the caravan has moved on, or elsewhere?

  11. Posted April 16, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Maybe just a sign of the times.

    From a post at Jeff Ids by Thomas Fuller.

    But people have pretty much stopped listening. They’ve even stopped writing. Joe Romm has folded his Climate Progress blog into the rubric of Think Progress’ larger efforts and now interns do much of his writing for him. Deltoid is down to one post a month, and it’s an open thread. Michael Tobis has fled Only In It For The Gold and is now writing at Planet 3–and complaining about a lack of traffic.

    He does go on to say that in the future he hopes that there will be a new debate about climate more firmly rooted in facts

  12. Posted December 16, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I was wondering if you ever considered changing the page
    layout of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.

    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or 2 images.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

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  1. […] 1. See ‘The debate platforms of the future: twitter and facebook?’, posted on April 10, 2012 at 2. See ‘Counterpoint puts boot into Mediawatch’, Nick Leys, March 10, 2012 at […]

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